As a working mother of two young sons, Kirsten Gillibrand gets it-all of it: the impact of the current economy on American families, the myriad of educational challenges facing our school system, and the importance of keeping our children safe, healthy, and happy. Fortunately, her status as a United States Senator puts her in a position where she can focus her energies on improving the family status quo.
With only a little more than a year in the Senate under her belt, Gillibrand has already created an ambitious legislative agenda aimed at helping working parents and children through affordable quality child care, improvements in education and health care, and keeping our neighborhoods safe. Her concern for the well-being of our children also led her to unveil legislation that addresses quality treatment for autism, improvement of asthma treatment for the young, and safety measures for food, drinking water, and baby products.
Not surprisingly, one of Gillibrand's key concerns is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its testing measures when it comes to school meals. As the first New York Senator to sit on the Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, Gillibrand has taken on a serious lunch issue: The safety standards at fast food chains currently surpasses those applied to school lunchrooms. According to USA Today, chains test the beef they buy 10 times more often than the USDA tests school cafeteria meat.
With a very public agenda and a busy life, here's her view of being a mom:
At Work: Kirsten E. Gillibrand was sworn in as New York's Senator in January 2009, filling the seat vacated by current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Prior to her appointment, Gillibrand served in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York's 20th Congressional District.
At Home: Hudson, New York. Mother of Theodore, 6, and Henry, 20 months; married to Jonathan Gillibrand, financial consultant.
Q. What is your favorite activity with your children?
KG: There is nothing better than spending time outside with my children. We love hiking on trails through the woods, noticing as many plants, birds, bugs and creatures as we can find. Both my sons also love to swim, and Theo loves to bike and play sports. In the warmer months, a typical weekend starts with a trip to the park to watch Theo play soccer, and Henry tries his best to keep up with his older brother. Sometimes in the afternoon, we go walking on nature trails or go to a museum to see planes, helicopters or dinosaurs! Dinner, bath time, and reading before bed are also favorite times for me. I try to carve out that time from my schedule to be home.
Q. What is the most important lesson you try to impart to them?
KG: One thing I am always working on with my children is eating well-we serve fruits, vegetables and whole grains at all meals. My husband and I take turns cooking, depending on who gets home first. There are two games I play with the kids to promote healthy eating. We give every food item points from zero to 10 (zero being chips or candy and 10 being broccoli or grilled chicken). When it's time for a snack, we ask Theo to choose foods that have the highest point value. We also work with both boys to eat the most colorful food, to create a rainbow on their plates-red apples, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, and purple grapes. They are both good eaters and enjoy lots of fruits and veggies as a result.
Q. Who was your greatest child-raising influence, and why?
KG: My mom and grandmother are important role models for me. They were both strong women who taught me about finding a workable work-life balance. They both were the primary caregivers, but also had careers outside the home. My grandmother, Polly Noonan, raised four children while working as a secretary for the State Legislature. She also had a passion for politics, and started organizing women to be part of the democratic process to give women a greater voice. My mom raised three children while working as a lawyer. In fact, she had to take a law school exam the day after my older brother was born. Both my mom and grandmother, however, made breakfast every morning and dinner every night, and my mom even found time to sew my sister and me special dresses when we were little.
Q. What is your approach to discipline?
KG: Disciplining is one of the hardest parts of parenting. It's definitely a team effort in my house. With our 6-year old, we've found "time-outs" to be most effective.
Q. What was a memorable family outing?
KG: This past August, my family visited the Watkins Glen International Race Track up in the Finger Lakes. We took a tour of the track, and the kids absolutely loved it. It was a thrill for them to see the sports cars preparing to go onto the track. Then my husband took Theo (in his car seat, of course) around the track a few times in our minivan. They both had so much fun, and Theo couldn't stop smiling and saying how "cool" it was afterwards.